Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Caroline and I am a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. My research project focuses on Striga - a genus of parasitic plants that devastates harvests by infecting food crops. I am exploring the defence reactions that can make host plants more resistant against Striga. Due to my ongoing battles with anorexia, I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked but I am determined to finish the course.


This blog charts the ups and downs of life in the lab, plus my dreams to become a science communicator and forays into public engagement and science policy....all while trying to keep my mental and physical health intact. Along the way, I'll also be sharing new plant science stories, and profiles of some of the researchers who inspire me on this journey. So whether you have a fascination for plants, are curious about what science research involves, or just wonder what exactly I do all day, read on - I hope you find it entertaining!


Saturday, 5 October 2013

'Everyone flounders during the first week of their PhD...'

...so my supervisor assured me during our first 'official' meeting together when I mentioned that I was feeling a bit lost. Certainly it feels as though I have been thrown into the deep end a bit. I had got used to the intimate, compact nature of Durham - and being able to get to the science site in 3 and a half minutes- so everything here seems on a much larger scale. My room in the Ranmoor postgraduate village is very pleasant: there are eight of us in total on the floor, all with an en suite room and sharing a kitchen/ dining area. My walk into the department though, now takes half an hour, along streets choked with traffic, litter, students and surprisingly expensive 'convenience stores'. Not to mention SubWay outlets...
That aside, the project itself sounds very exciting. My first tasks will involve becoming familiar with growing parasitic plants to take sections from. Apparently, it can be very difficult to infect sunflowers with Orobanche in the lab- usually in agriculture, the problem is that crops are too EASILY infected. However, this lab contains the world experts in Striga and Orobanche and over the years they have developed tried and tested protocols. I will be benefitting from years of hard earned experience!

The growing facilities will be closed down over Christmas for maintenance so I will have to start preparing specimens straight away to have them ready in time. My Maine ask for is term however, is to produce a Literature Review to place my project in the context of work already performed by others ( with so many research labs in the world these days, it is all too easy for different groups to replicate one another's work). Fortunately, I had to prepare a Literature Review as part of my final year at Durham - I chose to compare the similarities between plant interactions with mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen fixing Rhizobia bacteria- so am familiar with the paper trail that chasing references entrails. Besides the  wonderful, yet occasionally frustrating, referencing software Endnote. It's difficult to know where to start, so I shall just have to dive in and hope that the way ahead will seem clearer as I read...and read... and read....

This week has been a whirlwind of registration tasks and compulsory training sessions, everything from fire safety to waste management. 'At one point we had 27 separate waste streams' the Deaprtmental Technician cheerfully stated 'but that was a bit too much to manage'. There still seem to be an awful lot though, with different boxes and bins depending on whether your waste is hazardous, medically related, infectious...etc. Being so used to science paraphernalia, I find it hard to believe that pipettes tips and latex gloves still require special disposal as these count as 'offensive waste' which could upset members of the public if they came across them. Meanwhile, after the CoSHH ( care of substances hazardous to health) session, I feel that I will be lucky to get any actual research done, with the number of Risk Assessments I will need to do!

More excitingly, I have a desk, a locker and a bench to work at. Now I can feel like a member of the lab, even though I still don't know who everyone is and have forgotten the names of those who I was introduced to. The sooner the promised lab photo board is produced the better! And I have attended my first 'Wednesday morning coffee break', held in the departmental common room at 10.30. Coffee break happens every day, but everyone goes on Wednesday because there are free chocolate biscuits. Apparently, it was the only way to get everyone in one place so that any important announcements could be made...

Hopefully by my next post I will have made some progress with the literature and learning names! Thanks for reading!

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